Join a picnic party to enjoy Japan’s beloved cherry blossom.
Longing fills my heart
When the candles are lit
Cherry blossom, autumn
– famous Japanese haiku, Shirao Kaya.
Japan’s unofficial national flower is sakura or cherry blossom, and the flower’s annual appearance in late March or early April is front-page news. When the trees turn pink, the Japanese grab picnic blankets and rush to parks to take photos, drink sake, and relax, a custom known as hanami (literally “seeing flowers”).
The fleeting nature of sakura (the flowers are at their peak for about a week) strikes a deep chord in the Japanese psyche. In the days of the samurai, sakura represented the short life of an often cut warrior in his prime. In Japan today, sakura serves as a reminder of the power of nature, the changing of the seasons, and that life can be too short.
It is easy for visitors to participate in hanami which takes place all over Japan. Famous landmarks include Ueno Park in Tokyo and Maruyama Koen in Kyoto, although you’ll have to arrive early in the morning to find space to sit! Grab a bento box from a nearby store, enjoy a picnic against a background of sakura trees, and you’ll soon befriend the Japanese around you.
When to go:
The cherry blossom opens like a wave, blooming in February in Okinawa and then slowly ascending northward, peaking in Tokyo and Kyoto in early April and reaching Hokkaido in late May.